LONDON (AP) — Italian prosecutors want to drop their investigation into the 2015 breach of surveillance company Hacking Team, leaving a question mark over a dramatic release of material that exposed the global market for spy software and embarrassed intelligence figures across the world.
A redacted, three-page court document shared with the AP by former Hacking Team worker Guido Landi shows that Italian prosecutor Alessandro Gobbis has formally asked that an investigative judge in Milan shelve the case. No reason was given but a report in Milanese newspaper Corriere della Sera out Tuesday said that prosecutors hit a roadblock after following a trail of digital currency transactions back to the United States. The paper did not cite a source.
“I’m obviously happy,” said Landi, who was one of several ex-Hacking Team employees who were the focus of the investigation. “Still baffled it took 2 years.”
The tribunal could still order the prosecutors to reopen the case and Hacking Team has 20 days to appeal, but reversals are generally rare. If the move to drop the case were upheld, it would be good news for Phineas Fisher, the mysterious hacker who claimed responsibility for the breach.
Fisher’s exposure of hundreds of thousands of internal Hacking Team emails on July 5, 2015 showed how governments were increasingly turning to mercenary hackers-for-hire to pry into the cell phones and computers of their domestic opponents. One expert called the leak a “mini-Snowden event” for revealing the links between developing governments and Western spyware dealers. The exposure touched off espionage scandals as far afield as Cyprus and South Korea.
Italian prosecutors, the FBI and Hacking Team did not immediately return messages.
An email sent to an address previously used by Phineas Fisher was not returned.